There is one thing I look forward to every Thanksgiving even more than the turkey. More than the pie, stuffing or even Grandma's infamous sweet potatoes. The dish that causes me to quiver with anticipation in early October. The reason that I cook a 10 pound turkey for only four. That reason is leftover Turkey Gumbo. After all the sweets, the breads, the potatoes and the dense solid foods associated with the holiday, there is nothing like a hearty, thick soup to fill in those little empty spaces in your appetite. Especially when it helps to get rid of your leftovers.
Turkey is tricky to reheat. It dries out so quickly that I find a mildly heated panini or simple cold cut sandwich are my two favorite options. But using leftover turkey in a soup is a fantastic choice. It allows the turkey to reheat the turkey without drying it out. After all, it's swimming in broth and roux. Guaranteed juiciness right there, folks.
For those of you who have not previously attempted a gumbo, it's basically soup + roux. And what is roux, you may ask? Roux is a thickener, composed of fat and flour, and the base to many types of sauces. Just cook the flour in the fat and voila, roux. The base to many types of sauces, you can cook it for only a few minutes and voila, a béchamel base for a light sauce. The longer you cook, the deeper and more developed the flavor becomes. For this gumbo, you want to get a nice, rich, dark roux with lots of flavor. Though it isn't difficult to make, it is very needy. Constant whisking is required. So be sure to turn on your favorite radio station before starting this recipe, because you'll be stirring for a few hits.
So once the roux is created, you add all sorts of delicious things. Onions, peppers, celery and garlic are always wonderful in soups. Soft and tender, their flavor seeps into the broth while simultaneously picking up the flavor of the broth. Which in this case, is Cajun. Lots of seasoning adds a peppy, lively and well-rounded flavor profile without too much heat. To spice things up a bit, the cayenne pepper comes into play. If spice isn't your thing, you'll find that a little bit will suffice. But in our home, we dump it in with glee. We have yet to make this dish too hot, and we add quite a bit. So don't let the half teaspoon scare you off...we've been known to toss two in.
So now that we've addressed the more familiar ingredients, I present my favorite little co-star - okra!
Growing up in the Pacific Northwest, I never knew what this stuff was. My mom never included okra in her leftover gumbo. But after a bit of research, I found out why this is such a common ingredient in Southern cooking. When you slice okra, it becomes incredibly slimy. Weird. But when you add it to soups and stews, it turns into this amazing thickener that makes cornstarch look like a wimp. All natural, full of anti-oxidants and packed with loads of vitamin C and fiber, this mild veggie taste about like eggplant. In gumbo, it is basically a pretty little Cajun flavored nugget. It's lovely little flower shape is very appealing, and surprising easy to feed to kids (if described in the proper terms). Now that I've tried my gumbo without okra, I'll never go back. The improved consistency alone is enough to make me a convert.
After oodles of heavy, dense foods like potatoes, sliced meat and butter, I invite you to try this warm and nourishing soup. The recipe is enormous for two, but this is actually the halved version of what I use to make with my mom (yikes!). It freezes like a dream, and reheats perfectly. And as is the case with all good soups, stews and chilis, it's always better the second day. So grab a spoon, cook some rice and enjoy a big ol' bowl of gumbo.
- 1/3 c flour
- 1/3 c oil
- 1 large onion, diced
- 3-4 stalks celery, sliced
- 2 large bell peppers, diced
- 1 tbs minced garlic
- 4-6 c chicken broth (depending on how thick you like your gumbo)
- 10 oz spicy turkey sausage (andouille, if you can find it!)
- 2 tsp Cajun seasoning
- 1/2 - 1 tsp cayenne pepper (more for a spicier palate)
- 2 bay leaves
- salt & pepper (to taste)
- 1 lb okra, sliced
- 10 oz leftover turkey, shredded
- 1 bunch green onions (to garnish)
- cooked brown rice (for serving)
Place a medium dutch oven over medium heat and add the oil. When hot, add the flour and whisk together well. To create your roux, add the flour and whisk in well. Cook, stirring constantly, for 15-20 minutes until the mixture is about the same color as peanut butter. If it is cooking too quickly, reduce the heat to medium low (if it burns, toss it out and start again). You want to smell toast, not burnt popcorn.
When the roux is ready, remove from heat and whisk rapidly for a minute to cool. Add the chopped onion, celery, bell peppers, garlic and broth. Stir together and set aside to continue cooling.
Meanwhile, place a pan over medium high heat. Slice the sausage into rounds. When the pan is hot, add the sausage and cook until browned on both sides, about 5-6 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon directly into the roux mixture, and remove the pan from the heat.
Place the roux back over the pre-heated burner. Add the Cajun seasoning, cayenne pepper and bay leaves and stir. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. Cover and cook for 25-30 minutes. Taste the gumbo and season, if necessary, with salt, pepper or additional Cajun seasoning. Add the okra and stir in well, then cover and cook for another 10 minutes. Add the shredded turkey and cook for an additional 5 minutes, until the turkey is warm.
To serve, place a half cup of brown rice in a shallow bowl and top with one full cup of gumbo. Sprinkle with green onions to serve. It's also delicious over a half rice, half chopped spinach mixture for a lighter lunch version of this delicious dinner.